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Book Reviews by Sam Collins

Sam CollinsHere I would like to examine another new book - Offbeat Spanish (Everyman Chess, 143 pages, RRP 14.99) by GM Glenn Flear.

When I was preparing as White for GM Flear in the last round of Monarch Assurance Open-2001, I felt utterly depressed as my database churned out game after game after game played by Glenn in every system of the Ruy Lopez... Trust me, this guy has played everything (as it happened, it was with his trusty Open Ruy Lopez that he ended my IM-norm chances). So if anyone is qualified to write a book on ‘meeting the Spanish without 3...a6’ (i.e. all those offbeat lines like 3...f5, 3...Nd4, 3...Nge7, 3...g6 and 3...Nf6 {which used to be a little unusual, but was brought into the limelight by the Kasparov-Kramnik match}) then, with the exception of players like Piket and Spassky, Flear is the man for the job.

The book is divided into nine chapters: The Schliemann Defence (3...f5), The Berlin Defence (3...Nf6), The Classical Berlin Defence (3...Nf6 4 0-0 Bc5), The Classical Defence (3...Bc5), The Steinitz Defence (3...d6), Bird’s Defence (3...Nd4), The Cozio Variation (3...Nge7), The Smyslov Variation (3...g6), and Odds and Ends. Apart from some minor transpositional possibilities which he points out, Flear says that the book “can be considered as nine mini-books in one”.

Flear’s writing is good, as always — erudite opening analysis with good verbal explanation. His book includes games played in 2000, and his references are up-to-date. He manages to pack a lot into his 143 pages, just as he did in his book Open Ruy Lopez.

As the attentive reader may have noticed, this book is the exact same length and price as Main Line Caro-Kann. In fact, the format of the two books is identical, with the exception that the print in Flear’s book is slightly smaller, so I suppose you’re getting more for your hard-earned 15. Just like McDonald, Flear uses complete games with short chapter introductions and summaries, and just like Main Line Caro-Kann, Offbeat Spanish is equally useful to both White and Black players, since it attempts to completely deal with all of the lines it mentions, rather than recommend a repertoire for White or Black. Unlike McDonald, Flear doesn’t do much with his introduction (probably because he is dealing, essentially, with six or seven different openings).

This book’s strength is also its main weakness. It deals with so many lines that the reader is given great flexibility, and can constantly change his repertoire without buying a different book. To my mind, this makes the book an excellent source of ‘surprise openings’, since an opponent can hardly prepare for so many unusual lines. However, by stuffing so many variations into a single book, Flear can only give a single chapter to openings which have already had entire books written about them (for instance, Ruy Lopez Bird’s Defence by Colin Leach, or the several books written about the Schliemann). So what the book gains in breadth it loses in depth. For a player over 2100, a single chapter cannot contain sufficient analysis to deal with your main Black opening (though I think that the coverage presented here is very adequate for White Spanish players). So for players over 2100, only buy this book if you’re looking for a surprise weapon (or several!) — it cannot provide you with enough analysis for an opening to be played regularly. This is not Flear’s fault, rather an inevitable consequence of this type of book.

So another good effort from GM Flear. Players below 2100 can buy it and play the lines suggested; slightly stronger players will, in my opinion, find it most useful as a source of surprise weapons.

My Assessment (with 5 stars being the highest mark): * * * *

Other reviews by Sam Collins

Review 1: Play the Open Games as Black, by John Emms
Review 2: The Human Comedy of Chess: A Grandmaster’s Chronicles by GM Hans Ree & Storming the Barricades by GM Larry Christiansen
Review 3: Open Ruy Lopez by Glenn Flear
Review 4: Main Line Caro-Kann by Neil McDonald
Review 5: Offbeat Spanish by Glenn Flear
Review 6: Excelling at Chess by Jacob Aagard
Review 7: Can You Be a Positional Chess Genius? by Angus Dunnington
Review 8: The Grunfeld Defence by Nigel Davies
Review 9: The Best of Chess Cafe
Review 10: How To Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire by Steve Giddins
Review 11: The …a6 Slav by Glenn Flear
Review 12: Starting Out: The Ruy Lopez by John Shaw
Review 13: Knockout Nimzo (video) by Tony Kosten
Review 14: My Great Predecessors by Gary Kasparov

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted